Saint Thomas is an island in the Caribbean Sea, a county and constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), an unincorporated territory of the United States. Located on the island is the territorial capital and port of Charlotte Amalie. As of the 2001 census, the population of Saint Thomas was 51,181 about 47% of the US Virgin Islands total. The district has a land area of 80.9 km² (31.24 sq mi).
The island was originally settled around 1500 B.C.
by the Ciboney
people. They were later replaced by the Arawaks
and then the Caribs
. Christopher Columbus
sighted the island in 1493 on his second voyage to the "New World
". The Caribs seem not to have survived the first decades of contact with Europeans, either due to disease, deportation or slaying. Pirates
likely made use of the island as an occasional base over the next 150 years.
Danish colonial period
The Dutch West India Company
established a post on Saint Thomas in 1657. The Danish
conquered the island in 1666, and by 1672 had established control over the entire island through the Danish West India and Guinea Company
. The land was divided into plantations
and sugar cane
production became the primary economic activity. As a result, the economies of Saint Thomas and neighboring islands of Saint John
and Saint Croix
became highly dependent on slave
labor and the slave trade. In 1685 the Brandenburgisch-Africanische Compagnie
took control of the slave trade on Saint Thomas
, and for some time the largest slave auctions in the world were held there. Saint Thomas was known for its fine natural harbor
, known as "Taphus" for the drinking establishments located nearby. In 1691 the primary settlement there was renamed Charlotte Amalie
in honor of the wife of Denmark's King Christian V
. It was later declared a free port
by King Frederick V
The religious training of the African slaves was seriously neglected by the Danish colonial government. In December 1732, the first two of many Moravian Brethren missionaries came from Herrnhut Saxony in present day Germany to minister to them. Distrusted at first by the white masters, they lived among the slaves and soon won their confidence. A small Jewish community was set up in Charlotte Amalie and set up a historic synagogue Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the United States.
While the sugar trade had brought prosperity to the island's free citizens, by the early 19th century Saint Thomas was in decline. The continued export of sugar was threatened by hurricanes, drought, and American competition. In 1848, slavery was abolished and the resulting rise in labour costs further weakened the position of Saint Thomas' sugar producers. Given its harbors and fortifications, Saint Thomas still retained a strategic importance, and thus in the 1860s the United States government considered buying the island and its neighbors from Denmark for $7.5 million, but failed to find domestic legislative support for the bid.
David Hamilton Jackson
After being poorly managed by the Danish, a local islander, David Hamilton Jackson
, was instrumental in persuading the Danish to allow the USA to purchase the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. In 1915, he traveled to Denmark and convinced the King of Denmark to allow freedom of the press in the islands. He began the first newspaper in the islands known as The Herald Newspaper. After this he organized labor unions among the islanders for better working conditions. The islands now have an to honor the legacy of labor leader, newspaper publisher and judge David Hamilton Jackson.
In 1917 St. Thomas was purchased (along with Saint John and Saint Croix) by the United States for $25 million, as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during the First World War.
Percival Wilson Sparks, a U.S. Naval officer, designed the flag that now represents the United States Virgin Islands. Sparks married a local Virgin Island woman, Grace Joseph Sparks; when Sparks' superior, Rear Adm. Summer Ely Wetmore Kitelle, commissioned the design for the flag, P.W. Sparks asked his wife and her sister, Blanche Joseph (later Sasso) to sew the first flag. That flag was used until such time as a factory produced flag could be acquired. The flag's inspiration came from the U.S. Presidential seal. Sparks decided to have the eagle facing the olive branches (which represented peace) rather than the arrows (which represented the three islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John). (At the request of the Sparks family, this piece of history was entered into the Congressional Record in Washington, D.C., on April 30th, 1986, vol.132, No.56, by the congressional delegate, Ron de Lugo.) Every year Transfer Day is recognized as a holiday which celebrates the acquisition of the islands by the United States in 1917.
U.S. citizenship was granted to the residents in 1927. The U.S. Department of the Interior took over administrative duties in 1931. American forces were based on the island during the Second World War. In 1954, passage of the U.S. Virgin Islands Organic Act officially granted territorial status to the three islands, and allowed for the formation of a local senate with politics dominated by the American Republican and Democratic parties. Full home rule was achieved in 1970.
The post-war era also saw the rise of tourism on the island. With relatively cheap air travel and the American embargo on Cuba, the numbers of visitors greatly increased. Despite natural disasters such as Hurricane Hugo (1989) and Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn (1995), the island's infrastructure continues to improve as the flow of visitors continues.
Saint Thomas is divided into the following subdistricts
(with population as per the 2000 U.S. Census
- Charlotte Amalie (pop. 18,914)
- Northside (pop. 8,712)
- Tutu (pop. 8,197)
- East End (pop. 7,672)
- Southside (pop. 5,467)
- West End (pop. 2,058)
- Water Island (pop. 161)
The island is serviced by the Cyril E. King Airport.
The USVI is the only place under United States jurisdiction where the rule of the road is to drive on the left. This was inherited from what was the then-current Danish practice at the time of the American purchase in 1917. However, because St. Thomas is a U.S. territory, most cars are imported from the mainland United States and as a result, the steering column is located on the left side of the vehicle.
There are open-air cabs, also known as the "dollar bus". It costs one or two dollars depending on one's destination, and is the cheapest way to navigate the island. There are set routes that it follows. One passes by every drop-off location about every 5-10 minutes.
Passenger and limited car ferry services to neighboring islands such as Water Island, St. John, St. Croix, and the British Virgin Islands run regularly out of the Red Hook, Charlotte Amalie, and Crown Bay marinas.
St. Thomas-St. John School District
operates public schools on Saint Thomas.
Private Schools on St. Thomas:
Parochial Schools on St. Thomas:
- World champion boxer Julian Jackson was born on St. Thomas.
- Actor / Director / Producer Kelsey Grammer was born on St. Thomas.
- Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) born July 10th on St. Thomas, Danish West Indies; to Abraham Gabriel Pissarro, of Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and Rachel Manzano-Pomié, a Dominican of Spanish descent. Pissarro was a key member of the French Impressionist group of painters. The Pissarro family, French and Jewish in origin, had settled in the Danish colony of St. Thomas.
- Emile Griffith is a former boxer who won world championships in both the Welterweight and Middleweight divisions.
- Callix Crabbe, MILB infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers
- Alton Augustus Adams, first African American band master for the United States Navy.
- Judah Benjamin, was an American politician and lawyer, who served as a representative in the Louisiana state legislature.
- Morris Simmonds (1855 - 1925), German physician, pathologist, described a syndrome of pituitary failure with emaciation (Simmonds syndrome)
- Denmark Vesey – leader of planned slave uprising in Charleston, South Carolina
- Elrod Hendricks – professional baseball player, Baltimore Orioles
- Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), ambassador, an Igbo in Diaspora, is credited in some history books as having laid the foundation of West African nationalism and Pan-Africanism.
- Midre Cummings, baseball player
- David Levy Yulee (June 12, 1810–October 10, 1886) an American politician and the first member of the United States Senate to have been, at one time, a practicing Jew.
- Frank Rudolph Crosswaith, union leader
- Rothschild Francis, union leader
- Elizabeth Anna Hendrickson, civil rights leader
- J. Raymond Jones, political activist
- William Alexander Leidesdorff, entrepreneur
- Terence Todman, ambassador
- Roy Schneider, Governor and Physician
- Christoph Mecklenbräucker, adventurer and researcher
- Ashley Graham, union leader
- Kitwana Rhymer, basketball player in China who also played at UMass
- Adam T. Siska, bassist for The Academy Is...
- Karrine Steffans, former hip hop music video performer and actress and the author of "Confessions of A Video Vixen."
- Theron Thomas, a hip hop artist in the hiphop duo named "Rock City"
Points of interest